Bulawayo Waits for Change

Young voters in an opposition stronghold express a mix of idealism and apathy.

Bulawayo Waits for Change

Young voters in an opposition stronghold express a mix of idealism and apathy.

Young people in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, are filled with a strange mixture of high hopes, gloom and indifference ahead of the country’s sixth parliamentary elections in three weeks time.

Faced with an unemployment level approaching 80 per cent, many Zimbabwean youths are leaving by the hundreds to join the estimated two million political and economic refugees already looking for work in neighbouring South Africa.

One of the optimists is 19-year-old Nompilo Ncube, who currently earns a pittance as a part-time disc-jockey at parties in Magwegwe township. He has an almost naïve belief that the March 31 ballot will provide the ticket to achieving his dream of becoming a teacher.

Ncube, a dreadlocked activist for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, which enjoys wide support in the city, told IWPR, “I just want a job, to buy my own house and property, and live like our parents used to before the country got so hard to live in.

“I am just keeping my fingers crossed that we win the parliamentary elections and get our members to fill at least two-thirds of the seats so that they can solve this issue of jobs for us.”

This is an unduly optimistic belief. His namesake Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, has said that the election is already been heavily rigged in favour of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF party.

“If there was a free and fair election, ZANU PF would get 30 per cent or less of the vote,” said the cleric, who has been likened to his fellow-archbishop Desmond Tutu, who resolutely fought apartheid in South Africa.

Archbishop Ncube, a fierce critic of Mugabe, alleges that the vote-rigging has probably already bagged two million of the possible five and a half million ballots for ZANU PF. Ncube predicts that the MDC will end up with no more than 30 to 40 of the 120 directly elected parliamentary seats, against around 90 for ZANU PF.

Amid Zimbabwe’s burgeoning unemployment and poverty, many thousands of young people have been forced to abandon their studies midstream because they cannot pay their tuition fees.

Shepherd Chingunduru has six Ordinary-level passes but is unable to step up to the pre-university Advanced level because his widowed mother can't afford the bills. The 22-year-old MDC supporter says that he is now praying that the elections will usher in a change of government.

“I will be voting for change, and if it comes then I am sure things will get better for me,” he said.

“I hope to have money to take my A-levels and then study medicine. I hope also that jobs will increase and health facilities be improved.”

Mthulisi Moyo, a final year journalism student at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, showed a certain amount of cynicism – admitting that he would vote for any candidate who takes student concerns seriously.

Currently, a university undergraduate receives less than 200,000 Zimbabwe dollars – around 33 US dollars - a month from the government, and Moyo wants that sum tripled to help him cope with constant increases in the cost of living fuelled by runaway inflation which last year reached 623 per cent.

“I think I will vote for progress, development and empowerment,” said Moyo. “Any candidate that will promise these will have my support. I don’t care what party they represent.”

Ncube, Chingunduru and Moyo are unusual inasmuch they do intend to vote. Many of their fellow students say that they won’t bother, believing that politicians of all stripes are intent only on winning power for themselves rather than empowering the electorate.

But both voters and non-voters among the student community are appalled by the advanced ages of many candidates. “Most of them are way past their sell-by date,” commented polytechnic student Dumisani Moyo.

“They won’t do much for us, so why go and vote? There is little room for young Zimbabweans to enter politics because of the patriarchal set-up of both ZANU PF and MDC.”

Chiedza Simbi is the pseudonym for an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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